|Story||Photos / Slideshow||Maps: 1 2|
Black Butte previously climbed Sat, Nov 14, 2009|
We were supposed to be camped near Pinnacles and getting ready for an adventure climb in Feather Canyon. I was told it would be very fun. Only I was in San Jose and my van was on Tassajara Rd in Ventana some three hours away, locked behind a gate. We had unwittingly gotten ourselves in a jam when visiting the lookout tower atop Chews Ridge when we drove back down to find gate locked in front of us the day before. We were lucky to get a ride to Gilroy where we called for a friend to come pick us up. Only we still needed to retrieve the van. I spent some time in the morning calling the USFS and MIRA (Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy), the two land managers behind the gate. But on a Sunday morning all I got were answering machines. I called the Monterey Sheriff's office and the Big Sur State Park, but they simply referred me back to the same phone number I had used to try and contact the USFS. It was frustrating trying to get ahold of someone and it was with some amount of exasperation that I explained by phone to Michael that we'd probably have to wait until Monday. I suggested I could probably borrow a Sawz-All to cut our way out of the predicament, but Michael would have none of such nonsense. He called me back not five minutes later and told me to get ready as he was on his way to pick me up. He'd gotten ahold of someone at MIRA who arranged to meet us at noon to unlock the gate. I felt stupid.
On the three hour drive back out to Chews Ridge Michael relayed that if we had simply stayed with the van the previous night the caretaker would have returned in a few hours. He had simply gone out to run some errands. If only we had known there was a caretaker. Oh well. When we got to the gate we found it closed, but the locks inside the protective cylinder had been removed and it was an easy manner to unlatch the gate and drive the van out. While we were out in the boondocks it seemed like we ought to take advantage of a little hiking too. I would have loved to make an outing to Black Cone from the TH at Tassajara Springs, but it was too late in the day for such a hike as that. So instead we drove a few miles south to the TH for Black Butte.
I had just climbed it the day before, but worn from the outing to Miller Mtn, Michael had declined to join me. I had found it surprisingly fun and reported it as such when I returned. So it seemed fair to do a repeat to give Michael the pleasure in way of payment for missing out on the rock climbing we'd planned in Pinnacles.
Just before noon we started out, at a much more leisurely pace than I had used the day before. In fact we took almost twice as long to reach the summit, but it was a much more enjoyable outing and we got in some class 3-4 rock scrambling to boot. Where the ridgeline begins to grow rocky about halfway to the summit, we spent some time trying to climb the ridge directly, getting cliffed out in places and playing around on the rock. There was ample evidence of parties camping along the ridge and building small rock walls and rock art of sorts. It may have been the elusive "Friends of Black Butte" that had been mentioned in the register, but of course it was impossible to tell. I suspected that a group of outdoor enthusiasts with a penchant for LSD might easily have explained the odd goings-on we found there.
The largest pinnacle along the ridge was unclimbable from the north side by which we approached it, but upon navigating around to the south side it was easily climbed at class 3. I had bypassed this altogether the day before, but now took the time to climb to the top to check it out. There was a bit more rock art found here, a window (or Ventana, in Spanish) constructed of rocks with a few crystals placed atop it. An old piton with ring had been hammered into a crack, possibly used to top rope some class 5 climbs to be found on the west side of the pinnacle. We downclimbed a class 4 crack on that side, made a tad more difficult by the yucca and burnt brush that had to be negotiated, but it was all good fun.
We made our way to the highpoint of Black Butte just after 1p where we took a break. Michael used some plastic bags to rewrap the damaged register contents in an effort to make it more resistant to the weather. We ate the candy bars we'd brought with us and took in the scenery. Unlike the previous day, there was not a cloud in the sky. The sun's rays could be seen reflection off the ocean 20 miles to the west over the ridge topped by Black Cone. To the south rose Junipero Serra and Pinyon Peaks, the highest summits of the range. To the north was Chews Ridge and Pine Ridge, and to the east lay the Sierra de Salinas and Diablo Ranges across the intervening valleys. The temperature seemed ideal and not a fly was out to bother us. A good day, to be sure.
As we started back I commented that we could probably make a descent off the steep, burned slopes to the west, down to the Tassajara Rd. Michael scoffed at this, to which I replied with a half laugh, "It's not the stupidest idea I've come with." He looked a bit more at the proposed route and finally commented, "Ok, I'll follow you down there." And so we did. We retraced our way back to the largest pinnacle to the north, then headed down in a descending traverse through the burned chaparral slopes. It was very steep but the footing good, and we could use the bare, remnant sticks for support as needed. There were some small boulder slopes mixed in, some poison oak to keep us on our toes, but all in all a fairly interesting descent that would be all but impossible in a few short years with the regrowth of the chaparral.
We still had to hike back up the Tassjara Rd when we reached it, about a mile back up to the van. Mike was somewhat disappointed after the first half mile where he had expected to see the car around a curve in the road. Having taken a glance at our map while on the summit I knew there was still another half mile to go. Yet the bend in the road offered a good vantage for a last view of Black Butte and the route we had used to descend it. After a quick photo, we marched the remaining short distance back to the van.
I dropped Michael off at his car on the way out, letting him go first since he could drive the road faster in his car. He had declined to join me for another small venture in Jacks Peak County Park in Monterey, so he was heading home. I drove back down Carmel Valley and over Laureles Rd to SR68, then west for a short distance to the park. My interest lay in Jacks Peak, the highpoint of this small, wooded park perched on the hills east of Carmel and southeast of Monterey. The peak is on the CC list that I have been working on at no great speed over the past few years. I paid the $4 entry fee as I entered around 3:45p with the warning that the park would close at 5p. I would have to be quick about it.
Luckily, the summit is not far from the parking lot, less than a mile distance. In fact, a lot less. Once I figured out where the trail began, it took only four minutes to reach the summit. A couple were just leaving the rounded summit and I had the place to myself. There isn't much to recommend it. Aside from a bench located at the top, there is barely a slice of a view looking out in one direction to the southwest. I could just make out the hazy reflection of the sun on the ocean, but there was hardly much to look out.
Given I had about an hour left, I made my way down and west to the edge of the park in search of another named peak, Devil Hill. It is not on any list, but is the only other nearby named summit. There were slightly better views to Monterey before I reached the gated entrance to the park (foot traffic only from the west entrance), then I found myself hiking along a narrow paved road with a mix of old time residents and pricey newer homes dotting the road on either side. All the land around here is private.
I found a side road leading up to Devil Hill, also private. I went in anyway through the open gate. I followed the road as it spiraled around the east and south side of the small, rounded summit. As I neared the highest home on the hill, a teenager walking his dog came out through the richly ornamented gate, then stopped in his tracks when he spied me. This was obviously something foreign to him and he was a bit apprehensive. I figured at this point my hope to reach the summit was dashed. When I approached him I commented that I was looking for a peak on my map. He pointed me back towards the county park while I in turn tried to orient him to my map. He had no idea he lived on Devil Hill and seemed not to care and frankly I think my disheveled appearance (after the brushwhacking in Ventana) made him all the more nervous and he wasn't really listening to anything I was saying. Catching the hint, I turned to leave without reaching my goal (which in this case appears to be an extended driveway atop the hill that I could see a few hundred yards further away) which seemed to offer relief to the nervous young man.
I jogged back to the main road, then east to the entrance to the park. When I got back to the van at 4:45p, mine was the only vehicle left in the lot to no great surprise. The kiosk at the entrance was unmanned (or unwomanned, as the case may be). At the bottom of the road the entrance gate had already been locked but the exit was still open for the few stragglers like myself. Nice little park - I'll have to come back with the family someday when we're in the area.
This page last updated: Sun Dec 6 19:31:29 2009
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